December 20, 2016
Isaiah's Greatest Hits
Every Christmas and Easter Handel's Messiah treats us to the greatest hits in the book of Isaiah. We can hardly help but sing along when we read such texts as:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Is 9:6)
Ev'ry valley shall be exalted, and ev'ry moutain and hill made low; the crooked straight and the rough places plain. (Is 40:4)
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. And the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. (Is 53:6)
There are other familiar passages that also resonate in our hearts and minds such as:
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Is 40:31)
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Is 53:5)
Because the book of Isaiah is such a huge, sprawling text, we tend to concentrate on passages like these that we have come to know and love. But how can we get a handle on the book as whole, a book that had such a significant influence on the New Testament? Andrew Abernathy comes to our rescue in The Book of Isaiah and God's Kingdom. Rather than taking us chapter-by-chapter through the book, he highlights the great themes that dominate this longest of prophetic books.
By focusing on how God is portrayed as king, we can see more easily how the book holds together. God is king now and the king to come. He is king in salvation but also in judgment over the nations. He is the warrior king and also the compassionate king.
Abernathy also unpacks the lead agents of the king highlighted in each of the three main sections of the book: the Davidic ruler (Is 1-39), the servant of the Lord (Is 40-55) and God's messenger (Is 56-66). While evangelicals have a history of seeing these as the same figure, Abernathy makes the case that in the book of Isaiah, they are distinct. Nonetheless, from a New Testament perspective it is legitimate to see all three being fulfilled in Jesus.
The book closes with options for teaching or preaching through Isaiah. But it's purpose is to drive all off us back into reading this major Old Testament book again. That was certainly the case for me. In days of turmoil and uncertainty, meditating on God as the sovereign king over all the nations offers the assurance and perspective we need.